Take-Two shares wobbly post-GTAIV launch

Uncertainty over buyout leads analyst to downgrade stock; company chairman claims vindication at critical, commercial response to Rockstar's latest.

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From the day Electronic Arts first went public with its bid to buy Take-Two Interactive, the takeover target and owner of Grand Theft Auto IV publisher Rockstar Games has been consistent with its response. Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick reiterated the opinion that EA's original $26 per share offer undervalued the company's worth when rejecting said offer during a shareholders' meeting last month. However, he also said the Take-Two board would be open to entering discussions after GTAIV went on sale April 29.

GTAIV came out this week to critical acclaim and record-setting sales, prompting Zelnick to tell the New York Times in a statement that the reaction to the game "vindicates our strategy of waiting until the launch with regard to EA's offer." On the day of the game's release, Take-Two stock nudged upward $.16 to close at $26.63.

That gain was quickly wiped out as Wednesday trading saw the stock fall to $26.24, and this morning it suffered another hit as Kaufman Brothers analyst Todd Mitchell downgraded the stock from "Buy" to "Hold." According to a Reuters report, Mitchell lowered his assessment on the belief that EA was ready to play hardball and even walk away from the Take-Two deal entirely if its current offer of $25.74 per share (lowered to compensate for a Take-Two poison pill provision) was not accepted.

Mitchell reportedly told investors that he expected a maximum sale price of $28-$30 for Take-Two shares, and didn't feel the potential reward outweighed the risk of EA pulling its offer from the table. If EA walked away from Take-Two now, Mitchell suggested the Rockstar parent company's share price could sink by as much as $7.

Take-Two shares closed today's trading down $.15 to $26.09.

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